This week the students in Writing for Mass Communication set up their own blogs. The assignment is to post at least once a week for the next seven weeks.
Some students have said they are excited about this requirement.
“I’ve wanted to start a blog but just haven’t done it. So this assignment will make me bet started.”
“I used to have a blog, so this will get me going again.”
Others are somewhat puzzled by the assignment.
“So exactly what is a blog?”
“What should we write about?”
Nathan Crabbe, the higher ed beat reporter for The Gainesville Sun, talked with the class today about blogging and his experience with his blog, The Chalkboard.
How is blogging similar to other news writing and how is it different?
Blogging for Nathan is an extension of his other reporting. He uses the blog as his own “newswire,” putting up a quick blog post to break a news story before writing the more extended story for the newspaper, which often is posted online before being printed in the next day’s newspaper.
Blogging is more personal. He told the students not to let their blog be too personal if the blog is going to be a professional representation. But they can use first person and include their own comments on topics they discuss (giving the Tim Tebow Super Bowl commercial as an example).
Blogs don’t have to be written like a news story but news story writing style with the direct lead can be a useful style for blogging, as it lets the reader know right away what the blog post is about. He reminded the class that the way many blogs are set up, readers only see the first few lines of the blog and make the decision whether to click to continue reading the blog based on the headline and those few lines.
Blogs can promote conversation with the readers through comments.
Links play an important role in blogs, allowing a blogger to “give a nod” to another blogger or a media site for a story and to enable readers to find out more information. Acknowledging other sources and linking to them is a somewhat new concept for media organizations that have been concerned about encouraging (through links) readers to leave their sites to visit other news/information locations.
How does he use blogs as a reporter?
Nathan said he starts his work day by reading blogs to see what news stories he finds. He recommended Sayfie Review, which includes stories about Florida politics. He also reads Gradebook, The St. Pete Times education blog.
His blog can be a reporting tool, as he can find out different points of views from the comments and can locate possible news sources.
What about the use of video or photos in the blog?
Nathan said that he doesn’t use photos and video in his blog but said some blogs do a good job of using those. He said that the students who have cell phones that take photos would have that as an option. So I got out my iPhone and took a photo of Nathan as he talked with the class. I mentioned the Project 365 that encourages people to take a photo every day and post it. A Web site is set up to help you organize your efforts or you can join the project on Flickr.
Nathan said when he started his blog blogging wasn’t an expectation of his job. He wanted to learn about blogging and thought it would help him expand his reporting and writing skills. He also said that having social software skills — including blogging, Twitter and Facebook — are becoming important job skills.
We start this week with about 30 students who already have their own blogs. By this time next week, 235 students will have their own blogs because of the class assignment. But I hope they will continue the blogs beyond this class, using the blog as a way of practicing and demonstrating their writing, reporting and photography skills and providing them with a profession presence on the Web.
I find the most difficult part of blogging is connecting with other bloggers. In order to be read, you don’t just have to read a lot of blogs, but comment–and comment engaging–on lots and lots of blogs. And the bigger the blog the less likely you are to get noticed, but if you are noticed, the more likely to get increased traffic.
I’m not doing this for money (though I’d love to be able to have enough readers to get my own domain and web design), but a regular reader or two would be nice!
You’re right about the value of connecting with other bloggers and value of bloggers “promoting” each other’s blogs. But you also hit on the issue of whether one is blogging for free or for money. When I read Blogging Heroes (Michael A. Banks), most of those bloggers were reading more than 100 blogs regularly — but most weren’t making many comments on other blogs. I do appreciate your comments.